domenica 22 febbraio 2015
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Mountaineering’s Greatest Climb Unravels
By KELLY CORDES FEB. 21, 2015
ESTES PARK, Colo. — THE greatest climb in the history of alpinism, a story of mythological proportions, occurred on Jan. 31, 1959. Cerro Torre, a 10,262-foot spire of granite, rises from the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap like a sharpened spear, so steep that climbing it had long been deemed impossible.
But in 1959, the Italian Cesare Maestri — the famed Spider of the Dolomites — and the Austrian Toni Egger made a futuristic dash to Cerro Torre’s summit. The ascent took a mere four days; the descent another three through a building storm. One of their teammates, anxiously awaiting their return, on the seventh day noticed a body lying in the snow below the mountain. He raced up the slope, his heart in his throat. Cesare Maestri lifted his head from the snow and muttered three words: “Toni, Toni, Toni.”
So the story went. Greatest ascent. Toni Egger gone, killed in an avalanche on the descent, his body missing.
The climb was so far ahead of its time that it would take 47 years and dozens of attempts by some of the finest alpinists of each generation before anyone else would succeed on that same aspect of Cerro Torre. Think three-minute mile. Or a spaceship to the moon — a decade before the spaceship was invented.
Now new evidence adds convincingly to what scrupulous critics have long known: The two never made it to the top.
Beyond the sheer improbability of his claim, Mr. Maestri lacked proof. The team’s only camera was with Mr. Egger. You had to take Mr. Maestri at his word. It was all he had.
In few endeavors is trust as implicit in the DNA of the activity as with climbing mountains: You and your partner, tied together, trusting each other with your lives. It’s embodied in the enduring phrase “The brotherhood of the rope.”
Over the decades, a literal mountain of evidence has piled up against Mr. Maestri’s claimed ascent. Remnants of their passage, in the form of pitons, fixed ropes and other gear, littered the initial thousand feet, which he described as completely exhausting. Yet above, on far more difficult terrain, not a trace has ever been found. His descriptions of features higher on the mountain, which he could know only if he’d been there, were wildly inaccurate.
Perhaps most damning, Mr. Maestri claimed that a storm coated the upper face in ice, allowing Mr. Egger, a virtuoso in such conditions, to get them both to the summit. But the invention of the modern ice ax — absolutely requisite to rapidly climb ice so steep — was still a decade away.
Against all the evidence, Mr. Maestri, now 85, has held his ground, defiantly so, lashing out at his “detractors” and refusing to address the myriad issues surrounding his claim. He remains a hero in northern Italy, though lost in the crossfire has been another question: What happened to his climbing partner?
Sometimes a photograph can speak for the dead.
In Mr. Maestri’s 1961 book “Arrampicare è il Mio Mestiere” (“Climbing Is My Job”), a photograph bears a caption identifying Toni Egger climbing the lower flanks of Cerro Torre. The problem is, the photo wasn’t taken on Cerro Torre. Recently, in his tiny cabin in the village of El Chaltén, Argentina, where Cerro Torre and the other peaks of the Chaltén Massif soar above the horizon, Rolando Garibotti cracked the case.
Mr. Garibotti, 43, is himself one of Patagonia’s greatest climbers. After a dozen hours studying maps and photos and scouring his memory banks, he pinpointed the location shown in the photo. Then, late last month, he climbed, alone, to the exact location — a needle in a haystack among the massive spires — and replicate Mr. Maestri's photo.
It’s a perfect match, and it reveals a place never before mentioned in an otherwise thoroughly documented expedition. It’s dangerous to reach and distant from Cerro Torre. No one knew they had ventured there during their only time together in Patagonia.
Did they realize they were outgunned and went to investigate other climbing options? Could the photo — the last known image of Mr. Egger — hint at the actual location of his death? Each new turn takes us further from Mr. Maestri’s impossible story.
Memories are subject to distortion, of course, as scientists have pointed out in the wake of the Brian Williams story. But there is a vast difference between coming to believe what began as a lie, and the honest malleability of memory. An Italian journalist recently contacted Mr. Maestri, who denied and deflected, then recalled visiting the vicinity of the image.
If he remembers events differently than the evidence suggests, he should be generous enough to deliver his photos from those seven days — photos that now seem to exist — and help un-puzzle what really happened to his dead partner. Mr. Egger’s remains have emerged in bits and parts over the years from a glacier below both Cerro Torre and the dangerous approach to the location of the recently revealed photo. Was he swept away by an avalanche? Did he fall into a crevasse? Only Mr. Maestri knows.
More than once, given the controversy surrounding his claim, Mr. Maestri has said, “If I could have a magic wand, I would erase Cerro Torre from my life.”
lunedì 16 febbraio 2015
lunedì 2 febbraio 2015
New facts about the claimed ascent of Cerro Torre in 1959
By Rolando Garibotti, with help from Kelly Cordes, 2/2/2015.
Over the past four decades, Cesare Maestri's claimed ascent of Cerro Torre in 1959 with Toni Egger has been widely discredited (*). An abundance of evidence has shown that their high point was only a quarter of the way up, 300 meters, near the so-called “triangular snowfield.” What has remained a mystery is where Egger and Maestri (supported by Cesarino Fava) actually went during the six days that Maestri said their round trip required, and from which Toni Egger never returned.
Maestri was undoubtedly a phenomenal climber and an independent thinker, a vanguardist who deserves respect for his contributions. However, this should not preclude examination of his Cerro Torre claims. In doing so we are trying to establish the facts relating to the first ascent of one of the world's best known mountains. In the past, some Italian circles have taken offense at the examination of the facts, unwilling to accept the misstep made by a figure they hold in such high regard. To this day the defense of Maestri's Cerro Torre claim has been exclusively emotional. Nobody has ever mounted a fact-based defense, countering the contradictions, inconsistencies, and evidence piled against Maestri’s 1959 Cerro Torre story.
But proof of Egger and Maestri’s whereabouts during those six days was out in the open all along. The previous days of the expedition, with the team portering gear, making day trips to the lower east flanks of Cerro Torre and fixing ropes to the triangular snowfield, were all accounted for and corroborated by Fava's journal, the journals of the three young college students who accompanied them on the expedition and by Maestri's own accounts. In Maestri's bookArrampicare e il Mio Mestiere (Milano, Garzati, 1961) a photo (on a non-numbered page, adjacent to page 64, effectively page 65) taken by Maestri shows the late Toni Egger climbing on what the caption claims are "the lower slabs of Cerro Torre's wall." Two years ago Ermanno Salvaterra and I had noticed the photo while working on a yet un-published book; Ermanno and I knew the terrain, and it was clear that the photo had not been taken on Cerro Torre. What remained unclear was the actual location. The photo had been cropped in such a way that very little of the background could be seen. About a year ago Kelly Cordes asked me to look into it again, and he recently insisted, so I put forth a more decisive effort. After many hours studying images of the entire valley, with the help of Dörte Pietron, we recognized a feature that matched the photo in question. Bingo!
Maestri’s photo of Toni Egger was in fact taken on the west face of Perfil de Indio, a small tower north of the Col Standhardt, between Agujas Standhardt and Aguja Bífida, on the west side of the massif, the opposite side that they claim to have been climbing on.
What is the significance? In Maestri's many accounts of his 1958 and 1959 expeditions, never does he mention climbing on the west side of the massif. The six days when Maestri claims that he and Egger made their final push on Cerro Torre from the east are their only unaccountable days. What really happened during those days? This photograph provides another piece of evidence, and unequivocal proof of a place they went during their expedition that, curiously, Maestri never mentioned. Indeed it is nowhere near the location of his claimed ascent, and certainly no place one would unintentionally wander. Or forget. Perhaps in light of the massive difficulties faced from the east, the pair considered the west face of Cerro Torre, where Walter Bonatti and Carlo Mauri had found a line of weakness and made good progress a year earlier. From their east-side base camp, the only possible way to reach Cerro Torre’s west face would be to climb the slopes to the Col Standhardt, and then rappel west (decades later, this would become one of two most common approach routes to the west face). In Maestri’s photo, Egger is shown climbing below (west) and immediately north of the Col Standhardt, obviously returning to the east side of the massif. It is an impressive lesson in route finding. In the last decade parties trying to return to that same col from the west have needlessly battled with steep, hard climbing directly up to it. The line chosen by Egger and Maestri is far easier (III˚). From the Col Standhardt, the pair faced a return down the wind-loaded, avalanche-prone slopes that feed into the bottom of the Upper Torre Glacier – where Toni Egger’s remains were later found.
Toni Egger's death remains a mystery. Based on this new information it seems possible that he suffered an accident descending from Col Standhardt. The one person who knows what really happened refuses to speak, leaving us to try to piece together the truth. The mostaspect of Maestri and Fava's story is that they told inaccurate information to Egger's family regarding his death. Toni's sister is still alive. She still begrudges the fact that upon their return Maestri and Fava did not bring back any of Toni's clothes, equipment or diaries (Toni was well known for writing detailed entries in his diary). She is in her late 80s, living alone in a small town near Lienz, Austria. It is long overdue for Maestri to provide her, and the world, with a truthful explanation of what happened during those six days in 1959.
Toni Egger's last lesson to us is that of clever, ingenious route finding. Hopefully Cesare Maestri's last lesson will be one of integrity, coming clean once and for all.
What the photo proves:
- that this photo, which Maestri used in his book, was not taken on Cerro Torre as he claims.
- that Egger and Maestri visited the west side of the massif, the opposite side to what Maestri claims, likely to attempt the west face of Cerro Torre (what other objective could have possibly made want to head that way?).
- that, because no days were unaccounted for, undoubtedly they went there during the six days when Maestri claims they were climbing and descending the east and north face of Cerro Torre.
- that the camera was not lost as Maestri claimed.
* The first publicly expressed doubts were from Carlo Mauri, a renowned alpinist from Lecco, Italy. Later the case was picked-up by Ken Wilson, then editor of Mountain magazine. Much has been written about the many inconsistencies in Maestri and Fava's accounts, and about what might or might not have actually happened. On top of Wilson's excellent articles, some key publications include Tom Dauer's book Cerro Torre: Mythos Patagonien, my article A Mountain Unveiled, first published in Dauer's book, later reprinted and expanded in the American Alpine Journal, Reinhold Messner's book Torre Schrei aus Stein, and more recently Kelly Cordes' book The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre. All who examined the facts have reached the same conclusion: Maestri's account is but a tall tale.
Leo Dickinson, Colin Haley, Dörte Pietron and Ermanno Salvaterra also contributed to this article.